Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rigoberta Menchú

Rigoberta Menchú Tum (born 9 January 1959, Laj Chimel, El Quiché, Guatemala) is an indigenous Guatemalan, of the K'iche' ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country. She received the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize and Prince of Asturias Award in 1998. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders. Later, American anthropologist David Stoll visited Guatemala made claims that some facts in Menchú's Nobel Prize-winning testimonial were inaccurate or false.

Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She has also become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007.

Menchú received a primary-school education as a student at several Catholic boarding schools. After leaving school, she worked as an activist campaigning against human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan armed forces during the country's civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996.

Her father, Vicente Menchú was a member of the guerrilla movement Guerrilla Army of the Poor and died in 1980 during the Burning of the Spanish Embassy. In 1981, Rigoberta Menchú escaped to Mexico. In 1982, she narrated a book about her life to Venezuelan author and anthropologist Elizabeth Burgos, "Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia" (My Name is Rigoberta Menchu and this is how my Conscience was Born), which was translated into five other languages including English and French. The book made her an international icon at the time of the ongoing conflict in Guatemala.

Since the Guatemalan Civil War ended, Menchú has campaigned to have members of the Guatemalan political and military establishment tried in Spanish courts. In 1999 she filed a complaint before a court in Spain because prosecutions of crimes committed during the civil war are practically impossible in Guatemala. These attempts stalled as the Spanish courts determined that the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted all possibility of seeking justice through the legal system of Guatemala. On 23 December 2006, Spain called for the extradition from Guatemala of seven former members of Guatemala's government on charges of genocide and torture. These include former military rulers Efraín Ríos Montt and Óscar Mejía. Spain's highest court ruled that cases of genocide committed abroad could be judged in Spain, even if no Spanish citizens have been involved. In addition to the deaths of Spanish citizens, the most serious charges include genocide against the Mayan people of Guatemala.

Menchú has become involved in the Mexican pharmaceutical industry as president of the company Salud para Todos ("Health for All") and the company "Farmacias Similares", with the goal of offering low-cost generic medicines. She served as presidential goodwill ambassador for the 1996 peace accords.

In 2006, Menchú was one of the founders of the Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Six women representing North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen work being done in support of women's rights around the world.

Rigoberta is also a member of PeaceJam, an organization whose mission is "to create young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Peace Laureates who pass on the spirit, skills, and wisdom they embody.". She travels around the world speaking to youth through PeaceJam conferences.

On 12 February 2007, Menchú announced that she would form an indigenous political party called Encuentro por Guatemala and that she would stand in the 2007 presidential election. Had she been elected, she would have become Latin America's fourth indigenous president after Mexico's Benito Juárez, Peru's Alejandro Toledo and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

In the election, Menchú was defeated in the first round, receiving three percent of the vote. Several candidates of her party were threatened and two of them were killed. After the elections Rigoberta Menchu gave a message of peace on television.

In 2009 she was involved in the newly founded party Winaq.

Menchú was a candidate for the 2011 presidential election but lost in the first round.

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